Thursday, 31 October 2013

India and China sign border pact

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a peace pact in Beijing on 23 October, aimed at easing tension along their disputed Himalayan border. The two Asian neighbours have seen tensions resurface this year in the form of incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), following decades of disagreement as to the demarcation of the boundary. However, the pact, seen by many as an interim measure, was signed amid comments from Singh that “it will take time to resolve”, stressing that this was not an “easy issue”.
Entitled “Border Defence Co-operation”, this agreement is the fifth such arrangement made between China and India in the last 20 years. It sets out the terms of engagement, committing the armed forces on both sides of the border to “maximum self-restraint” to prevent any unwarranted exchange of fire. Nevertheless, there is also an ambiguous tone to much of the document. Article VI precludes either side from following the other's patrols if they venture into “areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control”, essentially giving tacit consent to incursions into neighbouring territory.
The disputed land covers an area of 150,000 km2 along a 4,000 km frontier that has never been explicitly delineated. This is problematic, given that both countries account for around one third of the world's population, with a total GDP of over $10 trillion. Premier Li says their relationship is “the most important bilateral friendship in the world”, which is not necessarily hyperbole. If accidental war were to break out as a result of their rift over this border, it would have untold effect on their respective economic output and could result in significant loss of life. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 saw tens of thousands of casualties from the largely land-based warfare that was waged in harsh, mountainous conditions.
The war was sparked, in part, by China's construction of a strategic highway in the 1950s linking western Tibet with its province of Xinjiang. Eventually the Indian authorities discovered that the road crossed southwards into what it considered to be its territory, based on the Johnson Line, a 19 th century colonial border delineated by the British surveyor, W H Johnson. When Britain eventually withdrew as the colonial power and granted independence to India in 1947, it left behind a myopic legacy of clumsily drawn borders between India and its northern neighbours, with no measures, other than palliative ones, taken to address this issue.
In the last 50 years, the Asian giants have held 16 rounds of talks in an effort to settle their border dispute, almost to no avail. Both sides have pledged to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015, following a 20% drop in Indian exports to China last year.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fence erected on Georgia-South Ossetia border

The village of Dvani, located on the administrative border between Georgia and the newly autonomous region of South Ossetia and home to around 1,000 people, has seen a number of protests in recent weeks over the erection of boundary fences by Russian forces. Other villages, such as Ditsi and Didi Khurvaleti, have also been affected by the dividing fences, which locals say amounts to a 'creeping borderisation' across Georgian territory that was not originally agreed upon following the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. The news has received much attention as Georgia's presidential elections approach this Sunday.
According to EU monitors, around 40km of barbed wire fencing has been erected along the 400km border, supported by intermittent pylons fitted with hi-tech surveillance equipment. At some junctures, the fence intersects properties, contiguous farmland and historical sites, including cemeteries. The majority of the work has been completed by Russia's army, appointed by South Ossetia to protect its borders as it did not have an independent force of its own.
Georgia's Foreigh Minister Maia Panjikidze last month said that the this provocative boundary demarcation amounts to “the illegal action of the Russian occupying forces”, a position supported by the EU's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, who has called on Russia to remove the fence. Moscow's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, has labelled T'bilisi's claims “propagandistic hysteria”, denying that Russian action violate international norms.
On 25 August 2008, Russia recognised the breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent after having supported local militant groups during the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, however, Georgia saw this as an annexation of its territory and formally cut all diplomatic ties with its northern neighbour. Ever since then, the boundary situation has been fluid and unsettled. Border outposts have been moved back and forth, and shooting incidents still occasionally occur. EU monitors have played a limited role in keeping the peace.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Venezuela, Guyana tensions rise after ship seizure

The Venezuelan and Guyanese governments are set to meet Thursday to discuss the fate of a survey ship, used by oil firm Anadarko, which was seized from Guyanese waters last Thursday. Venezuela accused the ship of violating its territorial waters, while Guyana has called the “unprecedented” move a serious threat to security. The diplomatic meeting set to take place in Trinidad & Tobago is aimed at forestalling any further confrontation between the two nations, whose unresolved borders have been a source of conflict for over a century.
According to Guyana's foreign ministry, Venezuelan ship Yekuana ordered the vessel RV Teknik Perdana, which Caracas deemed to be in its Exclusive Economic Zone, to stop surveying and subsequently escorted it to the island of Margarita. The ship was being used by Texas-based Anadarko, who were awarded a deep-water exploration licence for the Roraima block by Georgetown in June 2012. The company said it was “co-operating fully” with both governments, the US Coast Guard and embassy officials.
The discovery back in 2011 of significant hydrocarbons deposits offshore French Guyana has dramatically increased the presence of IOCs prospecting for fields in the north eastern region of South America. Since then, a Venezuelan naval detachment has been placed in the disputed Essequibo area, located between the Cuyuni River to the west and the Essequibo River to the east and covering 159,500 km2, to ward off Guayanese patrols.
The maritime boundary between the two Latin American nations is unsettled largely because the land boundary between the two is still contested. In the nineteenth century, the border was effectively drawn up by the British, which became a bone of contention with Venezuela. US-backed arbitration in 1899 set a line largely in Britain's favour, but the claim was revived in the 1960s.
Since becoming independent in 1966, Guyana has administered the territory, but Venezuela insists that the boundary is a colonial hangover which is null and void, and refers to the disputed area as a “zone of reclamation”. The recent ship seizure is unlikely to escalate into anything serious, with both sides working towards a cordial, diplomatic resolution, but until the outlines of a settlement are reached, it introduces a further degree of uncertainty into regional oil and gas exploration.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Offshore exploration tender issued by CNOOC

China's leading offshore oil producer, the state-run CNOOC, has issued a tender on the company website yesterday inviting IOCs to bid to participate in the exploration of 25 oil and gas blocks, the majority of which are located in the South and East China Sea. The blocks cover a total area of 102,577km2, include 10 highly attractive deep-water patches and represent the largest offshore tender offered (in terms of real size) by China since the 1990s.
The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by China to assert its claims in the strategically-located South and East China Sea by launching tenders for oil and gas blocks, as well as frequent diplomatic manoeuvres and shows of military strength. Tellingly, the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not formally meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit last week, following an escalation of tensions between the two Asian giants over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Last week, Abe made a defiant statement claiming that Japan would not make any concessions on its territorial integrity.
Two of the newly announced blocks, 33/02 and 41/14 in the Lishui Sag area, are located in close proximity to the disputed Islands, whose purchase by Japan last year reignited the centuries-old question over ownership. The state-run company is also thought to be investing $5 billion in developing submerged gas fields in the East China Sea, with the possibility of tapping gas deposits in Japanese waters through diagonal and horizontal drilling methods. The company has already come under scrutiny this month from Green Dragon Gas, which claims that CNOOC breached production sharing contracts by drilling wells on its licences without notification.
In June, China angered Vietnam by inviting IOCs to jointly participate in the development of nine blocks in the waters around Hainan, blocks which Hanoi considers overlap into their maritime territory. CNOOC's usual operating procedure is to team up with foreign firms during the exploration phase, but holds the right to take a 51% in the block once a commercial find is made. PetroVietnam was involved in a dispute with its northern neighbour last December when Beijing accused it of 'unilateral oil and gas exploration activities'.
For more background on the China-Japan Islands dispute, please refer to our previous news story dated 30 September 2013.